The Fold – Kin-aesthetic Beauty
One thing about holidays: they call us to dress up our lives. At the end of the calendar year, the season beckons the fa la la, the fun, fancy, and sheer pleasure of beauty – that sparkly tinsel-tacky decor, the zesty colors of a holiday banquet table, or the donning of ‘gay apparel.’
To date, these blogs have focused on the self-regulatory dynamics – the biological intelligence — of folding that creates both bodily- and worldly relationships in the fabric of existence. Or, they’ve featured examples where origami has been the muse of scientists, architects, designers and (bio)engineers – ingenuity that extends human use through material feats of economy and efficiency.
But let’s not neglect beauty! Aesthetics also can claim center stage as a human value the fold…exquisite in and of itself alone, phenomenal, like the erupting fold of birch bark.
Philosopher Richard Shusterman has coined a word and created a concept for the beauty of human physicality: Somaesthetics. A philosopher of aesthetics, Shusterman says that ‘bodily beauty and desire have been distorted, exploited, and abused in contemporary culture.’1 The word soma comes from the Greek, meaning the ‘whole’ body – all that physical (fleshy, carnal) and meta-physical (conscious, and kinesthetically aware). Beauty emerges when body is immersed in a mindful and sensitive inquiry, freed from the usual mental preoccupations and distractions of daily living.
Beauty is ever present in our embodiment because it is so richly sensuous. While it’s possible to ponder sensuosity, a mental construct simply can’t compare to a lived experience. It’s through actual, bodily experience that we come to realize the body’s crucial role in shaping our thoughts, perceptions and actions. In this sense, Shusterman is not an arm-chair philosopher, but a pragmatist. Beauty must be lived – up close and personal. In his many books on Somaesthetics, he calls our attention to a number of body-based movement practices that cultivate sensitivity in perceiving, attending and appreciating bodily detail.
Returning to the fold for a moment…Folding in the body is an act of engulfing – of taking something of the world, and enclosing it within. Two halves of a surface to come together in an act of inclusion. Human Origami can be a practice of aesthetics by attending to the sensations and feelings that arise in a folding moment. We can perceive folds everywhere, from the bending of light rays upon a wall, or kin-aesthetically sensed within the body. In Human Origami, we move slowly enough to allow our sensory awareness to transform mere ‘detection’ of sensations into living the folding pattern. In this state, we are both ‘with and away,’ engaged in a deep dialogue with our moving sensuosity while being in role as a witness to the moving qualities at the same time. In Human Origami, we are not trying to move slowly, nor mimicking slowness. We are actually being organized and led by sensory phenomena
This somatic experience is quite different then looking at a picture of ‘washboard abs’ or performing 100 crunches in an effortful attempt to build a terrapin-like torso. Devoid of preconceived goals — or the muscular effort to reach an imagined goal — we have made space for kin-aesthetic beauty to appear. . Because Human Origami is improvisational, you never know what you’re going to find within a fold – that place of meeting or opening of two opposing sides, or the transitional moments we perceive from going inwards to going outwards. It’s a journey paved by pleasure, a felt sense that lies deep within the human psyche. At the same time, this aesthetic practice is not an unrestrained unleashing of desire, but a means of distinguishing key phenomena in the pleasure-pain spectrum. Here, we build skills as curator, not only of our own aesthetic, but also of our health and wellbeing.
Imagine a practice whose main purpose is to transform the mundane into poetry? Human Origami is one embodied practice where folding brings together the unfamiliar and the familiar. It starts in play and ends in wisdom. We are just a moment away from receiving our own beauty. No matter how ‘touch sensitive’ our cell phones claim to be, the digital cannot compare to the depth of feeling arising from the bodily touch. Catch yourself next time when your hand touches your face. Stay a moment in repose and watch the sensations spread and enliven under your fingertips. Witness the shift in the sense of pleasure within your whole body.
- Richard Shusterman. Thinking Through the Body – 2012, ix.